Pitchers From 2011 Draft Show Their Stuff At Futures Game

Follow me on Twitter

KANSAS CITY, Mo.—It's rare for scouts to get enthused about a draft class well in advance of the June selections. When they do, it indicates a special crop of talent.

Scouts lauded the 2005 class, which has sent 26 of its 30 first-rounders to the majors. Many of the crown jewels of that class are outfielders, and several of them stopped by the 2007 Futures Game en route to stardom. Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Cameron Maybin, Colby Rasmus and Justin Upton formed the U.S. outfield contingent, with Andrew McCutchen unable to make the cut. Two more 2005 outfield stars, Alex Gordon and Ryan Braun, appeared in the midseason prospect classic a year earlier as third basemen.

Last year was the next time scouts got that excited about a draft. There was exceptional balance with plenty of hitters and pitchers, collegians and high schoolers, with the arms standing out the most. Many were in evidence at the 2012 Futures Game.

Seven first-round pitchers from the 2011 draft took the mound at Kauffman Stadium, including three of the top four picks: Gerrit Cole (Pirates), Danny Hultzen (Mariners) and Dylan Bundy (Orioles). The only one missing was Trevor Bauer (Diamondbacks), who made the preliminary roster but had to be replaced after getting promoted to the majors 11 months after signing. He earned his first big league victory with six shutout innings against the Dodgers on the day of the Futures Game.

Cole, Hultzen, Bundy and U.S. teammates Matt Barnes (Red Sox) and Alex Meyer (Nationals) were part of the deepest pitching staff in the 14-year history of the Futures Game, with the other five members all former first-round or supplemental first-round selections. Cuban Jose Fernandez (Marlins) and Chris Reed (Dodgers), an American born in London, gave the World staff a pair of 2011 first-rounders.

While the pitchers didn't dominate as much as expected in a 17-5 slugfest won by the United States, they were impressive nonetheless.

"Big guy, good delivery, good arm action, 94-96—they were just coming one after another after another," a scout with an American League team said. "Holy cow. It was unbelievable. I'm not sure in years past there have been that many guys lighting up the radar guns. There's plus fastballs, but these guys are 95-97."

Fernandez Stands Out Most

The most impressive member of the Class of 2011 in Kansas City was Fernandez, who had a lower profile than the rest on draft day a year ago. He worked from 97-99 mph with his fastball in a scoreless second inning, striking out Mike Olt (Rangers) and Michael Choice (Athletics) on breaking balls.

The top picks got hit harder than any of the U.S. pitchers, though it wasn't for a lack of stuff. While Jae-Hoon Ha (Cubs) surprised him with a two-run homer to the opposite field in the second, Cole was one of three Futures Gamers to reach triple digits with his fastball. He fanned Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox) with a 99-mph heater and Christian Bethancourt (Braves) with an 87-mph slider.

Hultzen gave up three hits and one run in the third, escaping a possible big inning thanks to a spectacular catch by center fielder Anthony Gose (Blue Jays). Hultzen still impressed, running his fastball to 94 mph and getting swings and misses with his slider and changeup.

Bundy also wasn't as sharp as usual and surrendered three hits in the fourth, though he showed a 94-96 mph fastball and his trademark competitiveness. Meyer needed just six pitches (including four 98-99 mph fastballs) to record two outs, while Barnes required only two 95-mph fastballs to do the same.

Reed had the toughest time among the 2011 first-rounders, blowing a four-run lead by allowing four runs in the bottom of the third. He did operate at 92-94 mph with his fastball and struck out Nick Castellanos (Tigers) on a slider, the only time the Futures Game MVP was retired all afternoon.

A Special Class

Barnes and Meyer, who had crossed paths with many of their fellow 2011 first-rounders in college and/or the low Class A South Atlantic League, enjoyed watching them again.

"We spent a lot of time talking about the game and how hard guys were throwing," Barnes said. "There definitely were some guys throwing some heat out there. I thought there were a lot of great arms who are definitely going to impact big league teams."

Said Meyer: "It was fun. I tried to pick the brains of some of these guys, see what they're working on, see how they handle their business, see how some of them warmed up. To see the velocity everyone put up, the breaking balls and changeups . . . Some of these guys have three or four pitches they can throw in any count. That showed me where I need to get."

U.S. catchers Tommy Joseph (Giants) and Rob Brantly (Tigers) had a blast as well. Both hit RBI doubles and said they relished the opportunity to work with such gifted pitchers.

"Catching 100 mph is pretty cool," said Joseph, who handled the first four innings. "Hultzen's slider, when he threw it to the back foot to righthanders, was nasty. Bundy's breaking ball started loopy but it came at you, picked up speed and took off. Cole's slider was one of the best sliders I've ever seen from a righthander. One of them I didn't even catch because it was so sharp. Cole threw one of the top-notch changeups I've ever seen, with late movement and good speed differential."

Previews of coming attractions don't get much more enticing than what Kauffman Stadium offered on a scorching summer day. Several of these pitchers could reach the majors in the next year, as Hultzen already has rocketed to Triple-A and Cole and Reed have advanced to Double-A.

"It's a special draft class," a pro scouting director with a National League club said. "You won't see another one like that for a long time. When you think of the position player class of 2005, that's like the pitching class of 2011. If you were fortunate to have a high draft pick, you're going to be happy for a long time."